Friday, May 30, 2008

A Foundation of Content

During the last few days I have noticed a consistent flow of traffic to this blog from the corporate Web site of government services firm McDonald Bradley (recently acquired by ManTech). I did a quick check of their site and realized the company’s PR professionals placed on their homepage my recent blog post of their CEO’s comments at an industry forum I attended a few weeks back (see M&A Cowboys and Tasty Doughnuts).

Good validation that the foundation of social media (and its ability to spread virally) is high-quality, credible content.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Good Business for the Airlines

Why do people hate the airlines?

OK…their track record for on-time service is spotty. And they often have trouble with luggage. Yet, many of the factors that influence performance are outside of their control (i.e. the weather).

What is most important to me as a frequent airline customer is safety. I’ve been on a couple of flights delayed because of mechanical issues and was just amazed by the moaning of other passengers. Yes…inconvenience is unpleasant. But, I would much rather have any “mechanical issues” worked out while the plane was still on the ground.

The recent announcement by American Airlines to charge passengers a first-checked-bag $15 fee produced an avalanche of unwarranted criticism in the blogosphere. It’s unfair to American Airlines and a shame their brand has to take such a hit. My reaction to consumers irate about the 15 bucks is just as strong as their whining: get over it!

American Airlines’ corporate communications team and PR shop Weber Shandwick did absolutely the right thing in devising a strategy that focused on explaining “why” this additional charge is necessary. Airlines are under tremendous financial pressure because of the rapidly rising price of fuel. I’m happy to pay a few dollars more to ensure an airline has the resources to run an efficient, safe and (yes) profitable business.

A tough lesson I learned as a small business owner is that there’s a significant difference between business and “good” business. Exceptional clients demand great work and accountability, yet also recognize the value of your counsel, treating you well, paying you on time and respecting a fair profit margin.

Airlines need to focus on their good customers and let everyone else find a different route.

American Takes Flak Over Bag Fee, Despite PR Strategy

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Microsoft Live Search Delivers Pay Per Action

Microsoft just unveiled a program for its Live Search engine that provides consumers with a rebate on purchases made through the site. It’s Microsoft’s latest effort to lure more search traffic from Google and Yahoo.

According to an article by IDG News Service, “The cash back program offers an advantage for Web advertisers in that they only have to pay when they sell an item, known as a ‘pay-per-action’ fee. It also avoids the problem of click fraud, where bogus clicks on an ad drive up marketing costs.”

Will this help Microsoft steal away a share of the search market? Probably not. The registration requirements and waiting period for the money are both fairly extensive. Yet, this demonstrates the importance of competition as it leads to new approaches and innovation.

Microsoft unwraps search engine reward program

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Best PR Pros Care...But Not That Much

Negotiator extraordinaire Herb Cohen attributes his success representing the interests of the US government during the Iranian hostage crisis, the skyjacking of TWA Flight 847 and the START arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union to a simple premise:

Caring…but not that much.

Make no mistake, Cohen certainly cares about every negotiation he participates in. The quality of his clients validates that. Since leaving public service, Cohen has helped settle the NFL football players’ strike and General Motors’ litigation issues, and recently negotiated celebrity contracts for Larry King and Cal Ripken Jr.

What Cohen brings to the negotiating table is an understanding of his client’s interests and that critical outside perspective. He is able to separate emotion from the process and provide an honest assessment of the best path to follow to achieve the desired result. Cohen is a true counselor.

That’s the position public relations professionals must always strive to achieve. What drives interest in a company among key stakeholders is answering the “why” question. To do this, we have to understand market trends. Be in step with our company’s growth strategy. And know the competitive landscape.

PR will earn the right to participate in meaningful decisions. We must then be prepared to provide honest counsel, even if it’s not what the CEO wants to hear. We have to demonstrate that we care…but not that much.

Read more about Herb Cohen:

Sunday, May 18, 2008

One Blogger's Betrayal

Something unexpected happened last week which caused me to betray the principles of the “Strategic Guy” blog.

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we counsel our clients at the onset of an executive blogging initiative about the importance of establishing an editorial mission and following the guidelines of journalistic integrity. These include:

1) Honesty when expressing opinions and assessments
2) Full disclosure of individuals and companies cited (no anonymous sources)
3) Acknowledgment of any relationships that may shape the views expressed

Last week I attended an executive networking event in which the speaker arrived late and unprepared. As a result, the presentation wandered through a number of topics without much in the way of structure or a central theme.

Bad enough…right? Well, the speaker also made a point of how their company’s culture is defined by integrity. This was followed by two anecdotes which completely disproved this assertion.

The first story detailed how they negotiated in bad faith with a vendor to secure more favorable contract pricing. There was then an account of their removal of equipment from a partner’s facility using a tactic of questionable legality.

I arrived back in my office well prepared to flame this speaker, while making a point about the requirement of public relations professionals to coach and prepare their executives before they hit the stage.

Then the press release crossed the wire. The CEO of a Strategic client was named to the Board of Directors of the speaker’s company (which is publicly traded). By providing full disclosure in my blog, I could potentially damage an important relationship.

A more daunting issue is one of ethical client representation. Strategic always acts in its clients’ best interests. Yet, one could credibly argue a critical post about this speaker could reflect poorly on our client.

So, I sacrificed my conviction to full disclosure. Did I do the right thing? Would you have done the same?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

M&A Cowboys and Tasty Doughnuts

We have all attended industry events that failed to live up to the hype of the title. I was appropriately skeptical this past Wednesday as I drove over to the Tysons Corner, VA office of law firm Patton Boggs for an executive breakfast event titled “Lessons of the Legends: the Art Before the Deal.”

Wow…was I pleasantly surprised. The panel featured two prominent executives:

Ken Bartee, ManTech MBI

Sterling Phillips, Pequot Ventures

Both Sterling and Ken steered their respective companies – McDonald Bradley and Analex Corporation -- through impressive growth strategies, combining organic sales growth with targeted acquisitions to enter new markets. The end result for each company: an eventual acquisition at a valuation that provided a stunning return for investors.

John Hagan of BB&T Capital Markets/Windsor Group served as the panel moderator. He is one of the region’s top investment bankers, and his firm is considered the premier provider of M&A advisory and transaction services to government contractors.

Here are a few highlights from the discussion:

-At McDonald Bradley, a targeted M&A program was put in place to help the company more quickly enter new markets. Ken joined when sales were about $3M a year. Five acquisitions later McDonald Bradley’s revenue exceeded $55M with about 50 percent coming from acquired companies.

-From a seller’s perspective, Ken acknowledged the auction process employed by investment bankers is a hassle. Yet, it typically leads to a higher price and gives the seller multiple options to consider.

-Ken also explained that buying a company of less than $10M in revenue is most challenging transaction to pull off. “There is more emotion from the seller around the valuation of the company and they are often inexperienced in the process,” he said.

-Perhaps Ken’s best advice for a company positioning itself for sale is to follow industry standards when it comes to operations, governance and staff compensation. “The more a company looks different…, the less the buyer will understand you.”

-Sterling Phillips’ situation at Analex was quite different, however he also believes in the auction process as a seller. Analex was publicly traded and Sterling explained that as a CEO and director his number one priority was to optimize shareholder value.

-An auction also provides a level of legal protection from shareholders who might question the value of a transaction. Sterling explained that any major corporate or financial initiative required good advisors, as well as a well-documented process. “In a public company, if you try to be a cowboy, you end up as a defendant,” he said.

-Here’s another great quote from Sterling about how his job as a partner in a private equity firm is a lot easier than the requirements of a CEO, “In the boardroom, the doughnuts taste a lot better when you’re not the CEO.”

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Cross-Promotion for Exec Visibility

One of Strategic Communications Group’s (Strategic) social media competencies is executive blogging -- helping members of a client’s management team promote their thought leadership for sales support, market positioning and organic search engine optimization (SEO).

A well proven tactic we employ is to write content once and then promote it through multiple Web-based channels. For instance, I repurpose content from the this blog for user generated social network and publishing sites, such as Gooruze, Sphinn and Fast Company.

In addition to increasing the audience for my thought leadership content, I benefit from the promotional activities employed by the social networks to enhance readership. (See Email below.)

If you are launching an executive blog, this tactic for the promotion of executive visibility is something you’ll want to consider.

The Customer Collective Weekly Newsletter
May 13, 2008

New Bloggers, and a New Podcast
Several excellent sales and marketing experts have begun contributing to The Customer Collective recently, including Marc Hausman, Martice Nicks, Dave Stein and Mike Volpe. Follow the links and find actionable ideas on the other end.

And don't miss the newly posted podcast with Sandbox Host of the Month Paul McCord, where he talks about the psychology of sales people and consumers, and describes how sales success comes when your selling processes are "a natural outcome of who you are."

Last Week's Top Posts in TCC
The Star Trek Officer Team & The Herrmann Brain Theory (104)
Sales Objections 2.0 (74)
It's Not E-Learning ... It's E-Teaching!! (48)
Get off Your S: The Biggest Trust Factor Affecting Trust (41)
Affordable Mobile Broadband on the go with Three (38)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Comedian Chris Rock and Sales Honesty

Part of the foundation of a successful business is intimate relationships with customers and prospects based on honesty, integrity and loyalty. Right?

The reality is that most companies are unprepared (and even unwilling) to deliver on that promise. Consider a recent article in Computerworld about the stereotypical sales styles practiced by technology vendors that ostracize the very prospects they target.

The 6 Most Infuriating Tech Sales Styles

Last month at the RSA Conference in San Francisco I chatted with the Chief Security Officer from a university based in Ohio who explained he spends his time at trade shows ducking vendors. He was there for the peer networking and continuing education courses, and viewed the companies hawking wares as merely a nuisance.

This morning I read about an encryption software firm called Mobile Armor that employed a misleading product comparison matrix in its sales process that implied its product was better than competitors’. Mobile Armor officials declined to comment for the article, yet have acknowledged that a consultant, who no longer works for the company, created the matrix without the knowledge of company executives.

Vendor Assailed for Unfair Marketing
Federal Computer Week

The natural (and easy) reaction is to be outraged by the blatant lack of respect many companies display for integrity in the sales and marketing process. Yet, as comedian Chris Rock once said in a skit about OJ Simpson’s alleged double murder, “I am not saying he should have killed her, but I understand.” (

That’s because in many instances prospects -- because of a lack of expertise and time – are forced to make uneducated decisions. As a result, vendors are placed in the uncomfortable position of balancing complete honesty in the sales and marketing process with the ability to effectively compete the marketplace.

Do you think I am off base? Has a prospect ever asked if your firm has a particular competency and, to ensure you remain in the running for the business, you overstate your capability? Any sales executive that answers “no” to that question is most likely on the street looking for work.

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), our policy is to never misrepresent our clients’ capabilities, track record or competitive advantages. Yet, we also position our clients based on the company they are striving to become, rather than what they are today.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Traditional, Social Media Continue to Dance

My colleague Chris Parente -- whose Work, Wine & Wheels blog is an excellent read ( -- turned me on to an interesting development that points to the continued integration of social and traditional media. Adds TechCrunch to Technology Section

LinkedIN has also done an excellent job of extending of the impact of their community by establishing relationships with respected media outlets such as BusinessWeek and CIO Magazine.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Three Social Media Musts

Transparency, honesty and integrity are an absolute must in content developed for social media channels.

Unlike traditional journalism, there’s no peer review process. This presents an opportunity for PR professionals to step in and fill the void. For social media to truly fulfill its potential as an influential medium, we have to ensure that executive blogs, social network profiles and other content generated for the Web is viewed as credible.

There’s no room for missteps…and that extends to PR students as well.

College students’ PR campaign sparks controversy
PR Week

Monday, May 5, 2008

Where's the Beef? Jumpstarting Your Next Viral Marketing Campaign

I grew up in a viral era.

I was born the same year the advertising jingle “I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company” was reworked into a top ten pop song. Years later, my room was decorated with posters of Spuds MacKenzie – the Bull Terrier made famous in Bud Light television commercials – and Max Headroom, spokesperson for New Coke. Max fared quite a bit better than the ill-fated product he hocked as he scored a lead role on an NBC television series that lasted a few years.

My viral upbringing is best captured in a simple question: Where’s the Beef? Originally featured in an advertising campaign for fast food chain Wendy’s, this catchphrase transitioned to pop culture when Walter Mondale used it in a debate during the 1984 presidential election to challenge the substance of rival Gary Hart’s views.

Pre-Internet it took a healthy dose of big budget advertising for content to truly go viral. The gulf between individuals was just too great for something to spread beyond a relatively close knit social group.

It sure is different today. Research firm eMarketer reports that nearly 9 out of 10 adults share content with friends and family by Email. Moreover, new media channels such Web-based video sites, blogs and social networks empower individuals to connect with a great number of people, more quickly.

Corporate marketing executives recognize there is gold in viral. For a relatively insignificant amount of budget, they can build brand and positively influence sales, profitability and valuation.

Consider the recent viral success experienced by Chinese PC-marker Lenovo. For a few thousand dollars, their corporate communications team created a video of Lenovo employees playfully comparing their ThinkPad X300 ultramobile PC with the much hyped MacAir from Apple. After being passed around the Web and profiled in a number of trade media and industry blogs (, the video will be professionally redone by Lenovo as part of the company’s next TV ad campaign.

So, what’s the secret to developing content that spreads to the masses via the Web? I’ll argue no one truly knows. It’s kind of like the characteristics of cool. It depends upon who you ask.

I do have a couple of suggestions that could help your company create the next viral wonder:

1. First and foremost, viral is about entertaining and engaging content that presents information in an unexpected way. Embrace humor as long as it is in good taste. Don’t shy away from poking fun at yourself.

For instance, at an AeA conference I attended key note speaker Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of Research in Motion (maker of the Blackberry), shared a video from their creative department that “mistakenly” referred to his company’s product as a Crackberry.

2. Start the viral spark by posting the content on as many user-generated sites as possible. Encourage your employees, partners and customers to do the same.

3. Embrace controversy. There will be those who find fault with your viral content and, in rare instances, consider if offensive. As long as your intentions are honorable, stand behind your content and encourage differing opinions. It will actually help spread the word.

4. Keep your chin up. Viral content is a lot like professional baseball. Succeed three out of ten times and you’ll be in the Hall of Fame. The reality is that most of the content you produce won’t catch on beyond a niche target group. And that’s OK. Luck and timing may be on your side next time around.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Death of a Virtual Fence

In September 2006, Boeing won a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) contract ( to construct a virtual fence along the US/Mexican border. Estimated to be worth up to $2.5 billion over a four-year period, this effort was hailed by the DHS as a major first step in their Secure Border Initiative.

Fast forward 18 months and DHS officials have acknowledged the initial pilot for the virtual fence roll-out which included towers, radars, cameras and computer software has failed to meet expectations. The system didn’t work well enough to “keep or continue tweaking.”

Is this a failure by our government? Should the $20M spent on this pilot program be chalked up as a waste? How about Boeing? Are they accountable for this failed program?

Absolutely not.

My view is that this is an example of the type of responsible planning, budgeting and evaluation of technology programs that all enterprises should have in place. Rather than rushing to roll-out the entire program, DHS working in lock-step with Boeing took a measured approach to assess whether the virtual fence concept as proposed would work.

It didn’t. DHS admitted it wasn’t viable. The program was discontinued.

The reality is that the implementation of any type of enterprise system – whether it is custom or COTS – is a challenge. Customers and vendors need to work together to set realistic expectations and benchmarks, and then measure progress every step of the way.

Not everything is going to pan out as planned. And that’s OK.

Government will replace virtual border fence